I think every twenty something, at least once, has made the resolution on the new year or somewhere in between, “I’m going to start going to the gym.” I’ve done it. Many times, in fact. And many times, I had failed.

Let me quickly back up and tell my story. A little over two years ago, I was 30 pounds heavier and self-conscious. I thought I what I ate was healthy but it wasn’t. I considered my bowling career to be an active lifestyle. I wasn’t obese, at risk of heart disease, diabetes, or other illnesses, but I had some weight to lose and needed a healthier lifestyle.

In college, I told myself at the beginning of each year that I would start going to the gym. I always did for about a week, then things would pile up, my social life would boom, or I just didn’t feel like it. Some time would pass and then I would try to get back on the wagon, and it would be successful for another week. Only until after I graduated did I realize a way to start going to the gym, and stay there, to lose 30 pounds.

Make a Schedule

Even if you aren’t attached to your phone calendar, planner, or some type of schedule, make a plan for yourself. This plan shouldn’t just be “I’ll go to the gym three times a week.” You should make a specific plan; what days, what time of days, and how long. Put it on a piece of paper, and make big X’s through the days that you complete your goal. Nothing feels better than crossing something off a list or calendar.

Whenever I write my schedule, I consider my life. I know that I have limited time in the morning before work, and there’s no way I’m going to wake up before the sun rises. But, of course, I can’t schedule gym time after work when I know I have to be somewhere immediately after. So, I’ve found a rhythm of waking up before work, getting a half hour workout in, and still be on time.

Do you work late on Tuesdays? Don’t go to the gym Tuesday after work. Are you always traveling on the weekend? Schedule your workout during the week. It’s helpful to set a schedule, for example, always going right after work on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, but everyone is different. You may find setting your schedule based on your upcoming week is easier than cementing yourself to certain days of the week. It’s all about you.

Budget

Gyms can get pricey, it’s just a fact. Each have different rates, contract lengths (some don’t have contracts at all), and fees associated with breaking those contracts. Many gyms offer “tiers” of membership, allowing you access to more and more “things” as you cut a bigger check each month.

When you look at membership prices, you have to think as realistically as possible. Maybe one price gives you access to group classes, but are you actually going to go to them? Check the times of the classes and compare it to your lifestyle. If the only class you can realistically make it to is jazzercise, and you have a fear of spandex and sequins (sorry, that was a terrible stereotype and not the case in most gyms), maybe that membership package isn’t the one for you.

How far away your gym is, and how many are in your area, is something to consider as well. Maybe your gym is close to where you work, but not close to home, or vice versa. Or, maybe your gym only exists in your city, but there’s no gym near your parent’s house, where you visit often. Committing to a gym is serious business. Consider all the factors before you jump in, and make sure you can leave your gym without any fees if you find a reason to switch.

Have a real, specific reason

This, I believe, is the biggest reason why many stop going to the gym, including myself. I didn’t have a reason. Nothing was truly motivating me to get my sneakers on in the morning and go. Although I had told myself “I want to be healthy” or “I want to lose weight,” those reasons were too vague and easily pushed to the side once, “I don’t feel like it today” became an excuse.

Your reason is going to be the thing that motivates you, and it needs to be small and attainable. Maybe you have a goal of losing 100 pounds. That’s a lot. Break it down to something smaller. Studies have shown a greater rate of success for those who have small attainable goals set for themselves which work towards a larger one. Instead of making the goal, “I’m going to go to the gym three times a week and lose 100 pounds,” Think in a smaller scale. “This month, I’m going to lose 4 pounds by going to the gym three times a week and logging the foods I eat.” These goals should be realistic, too, especially if you’re looking to lose weight. There are amazing resources online to help determine your healthy body weight, how many pounds you should lose per week, and how many calories you should eat per week. Does your gym come with a personal trainer? Talk to them.

I occasionally lose sight of my “reason,” or become discouraged that I’m not meeting my goal as fast as I think I should. In those moments, I try to refocus myself, and readjust my goals after an honest conversation with a good friend or my family.

Write down your goals

Once you establish your big goal, and your smaller attainable goals, write them down. It can be on a sticky note, in your diary, even with marker on your bathroom mirror (yes, I’ve done that). Writing your goals down makes it more likely that you’ll achieve them, but more importantly, that you’ll work for them.

Don’t just write your goals down and then hide it away. These goals are going to be the thing to motivate you once you start to say “I don’t feel like it,” or make other excuses for yourself. See now why making those small attainable goals is helpful? When something feels impossible, you’re more likely to give up on it.

Find a buddy

Your gym buddy isn’t someone who will chat with you while you both stand on the motionless treadmill for hours at the gym. Your buddy is someone who will motivate you, head to the gym with you when the weather is lousy, but most importantly, listen to your frustrations.

Going to the gym, fitness, healthy eating, and everything in between can get frustrating. Sometimes, it’s hard to vent these frustrations to someone who doesn’t have a similar outlook on getting into a healthier lifestyle. Having a buddy who is on a similar journey will understand your feelings, and throw out that tub of ice cream you so desperately want to eat out of sadness.

Don’t go to the gym at all

Wait, what? Work out by not going to the gym? How does that work?

For some people, the gym just doesn’t work. The large number of people, waiting for machines, or just not really knowing what you’re doing once you show up can be excuse enough to never go again. If doing something is painful, uncomfortable, or makes you miserable, you’re significantly less likely to do it.

So, how do you start exercising if you can’t go to the gym? It’s not impossible. There are plenty of workout programs that you can do in the privacy of your own home, or you can investigate new ways to exercise that you enjoy, such as running, swimming, playing tennis, hiking, biking…the list doesn’t end. Those home workout programs may even play better into your budget, as it is a one-time purchase, instead of a monthly fee. You also lose the excuse that “the gym is too far away,” or “the weather isn’t nice,” or “there’s too much traffic” when it comes to getting to the gym.

This is the option I have chosen, after being a member of a few different gyms. For me, the choice was of convenience and budget. I purchased a program that was easy to follow along, reasonably priced, and only a half hour workout a day. The half hour workouts fit best into my lifestyle, and if I’m feeling ultra motivated, I can even do two back to back.

Ultimately, know yourself and what would motivate you the most. Many say that they couldn’t exercise in the same place as their refrigerator and their bed, others don’t want to be seen flailing on the treadmill. It’s all you.

Reward yourself

The high five is so important. It’s your motivation to keep going, and what will keep you in your rhythm that you’ve established with a good schedule. Your reward can be anything you want it to be, but should be something you feel you deserve. New workout gear, a trip to a city you’ve never visited, or even a puppy can be a reward for meeting your goals; both the small ones and the big ones.

I have to admit; I occasionally fall into the trap of rewarding myself with food. Terrible, unhealthy, triple deep fried food. This is the worst thing you can do! You worked hard all week, or even longer. It shouldn’t be undone with unhealthy choices. Keep up the healthy habits! I usually reward myself with a shopping trip for clothes, or decorations for my apartment.

Don’t get hung up on numbers

If you’re heading to the gym in order to lose weight, it’s easy to become controlled by your scale. Even if you’re not looking to lose weight, there’s other ways you can be controlled. If you’re noticing that you’re slipping on those X’s on your calendar, not lifting as much as you wanted to be lifting, running slower than you think you should be, or start to get down on yourself in any way, it can be a slippery slope.

Stepping away from the scale, the weights, your watch, or anything that you feel controlled by can be incredibly helpful, but scary at the same time. Especially if you’re already in a habit, it may be tough to break free. It’s important to remember the positive changes you’ve already made in your life. Maybe you went from working out three times a week to five times a week, or have been able to lift twice as much as you could when you started. These improvements are so important to reflect on, especially when you’re feeling down about yourself.

Eventually, you find the rhythm. You figure out what time of day you are most motivated to work out, who your buddy and supporters are, what exercises you like and what you don’t, and your goal will soon be crushed. Then, of course, it’s on to the next one!